The earth had been billions of years in the making. Then God comes! And begins personal relationships with humans!!
He chose one man – Adam – to make the first move from physical life to spiritual life. Man had never encountered God before, and now a whole new quality and dimension was added to human life.
People outside of the Garden of Eden lived and died completely unaware of what was happening inside the Garden. As it is even to this day, for reasons we don't understand, God chooses to reveal himself to some people but not to others, mostly a consequence of time and place.
The story of the Garden of Eden – man's first encounter with God – is told in Genesis 2:8 - 3:24.
'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:15-17).
The Garden of Eden is both a time and a place. The story is well known, but highlights and major themes are in Topic 1.4.1, and answers to frequently asked questions are in Topic 1.4.2.
According to Bible genealogy (see 1.3.3), the time was approximately 4000 BC.
The Bible says that the Garden of Eden was at or near the headwaters of four named rivers. Even though the names of two of the rivers have changed and are now impossible to identify precisely, it appears that this garden (special place) was in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization) between the Tigris and Euphrates, near the Persian Gulf.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is foundational theology for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Many different belief systems have developed from this story over the centuries.
Doctrines are the teachings of churches, mosques and synagogs. All major religious groups have splintered many times over doctrines – and are still splintering today – with each group claiming to have the correct understanding of the scriptures.
The original Hebrew text of the Eden story is not in question. The differences are only in the interpretation. The Bible studies here contain links to the Hebrew text with character-by-character translation into English by the world's best Hebrew linguists.
Tap button below if you want to read from the original text, stripped from traditions and doctrines:
The Bible studies here display all relevant scripture verses on each theological issue, to help people find reasons for WHAT and WHY to believe, direct from the Bible, without being steered by any particular tradition or doctrine.
Most Bible studies elsewhere use the fill-in-the-blanks method to affirm what most people in the group already believe ... to make sure desired answers are given ... and to make everyone feel good by thinking that they have participated in a thorough study.
The Bible studies here use the Socratic method of study for raising any and all hard questions ... objectively searching the Bible for answers ... and thinking deeply about how to put it all together for coherent understanding and presentation.
For people today, the doctrinal issues derived from the Eden story are more important than details of the story itself.
The story of Adam and Eve raises this theological question: Does God ever hold a person guilty for the sins of another?
How we answer this question here sets the pattern for how we understand sin and eternal life in all parts the Bible.
A majority of Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have been taught that the full guilt for Adam's sin is placed on every human being and that, without salvation through Jesus, everyone will burn in hell forever because of it, even apart from their own sin, and even if they never heard of Adam or Jesus. Everyone, tradition says, is born guilty and condemned to hell.
This doctrine is known as original sin, inherited sin, transmitted sin and ancestral sin.
None of these terms appear anywhere in the Bible.
The doctrine of original sin – that we all all guilty for Adam's sin – was conceived by theologians long after the death of Jesus, Apostles and New Testament writers.
In scripture, Jesus taught only that we are guilty for our own sins, and he never even mentioned Adam's name.
The doctrine had its origin in the writings of Tertullian (160-220) and Cyprian (200-258). It was popularized by Augustine (354-430), Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564).
The theologians who developed the doctrine of original sin did not have any personal interaction with Jesus or his disciples. Hundreds of years had passed. Oral transmission was no longer consistent and trustworthy, so for truth they studied the same verses in the Bible that we will study in Topic 1.4.3.
Today, we can study these verses just as well, or better, than they could in their day.
The doctrine of original sin is constructed upon these three verses:
➤ 'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.' (Romans 5:12)
➤ 'Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.' (Romans 5:18)
➤ 'For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.' (I Corinthians 15:21-22)
At the surface level, these three verses seem to contradict dozens of other verses in the Bible, especially the words of Jesus, and major themes of the Bible such as free will, God's love and God's justice.
However, they can be harmonized with the rest of scripture when studied in context rather than pulled out as stand-alone verses, as shown in Topic 1.4.3.
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, but these are the three upon which the doctrine of original sin was developed. Christians talk about original sin as through it is a theme that runs through the Bible. Not so. It rests upon three verses pulled from their broader context. Even with these verses – read them again – one has to strain to try to make them say that everyone is guilty for Adam's sin. That is a big stretch and an addition to scripture.
If Adam caused such a horrific change in human nature and the course of human history, we would expect the Bible to contain more than three vague references to such a catastrophe affecting the life and destiny of every person.
Tap question below to see three other verses (off-point) that proponents sometimes cite as additional support for the doctrine of original sin.
Many people over-reach with these so-called additional 'proof-texts' they say support the concept of original sin. Notice that these verses never even mention Adam.
The concept of original sin is derived primarily from a few verses written by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans. TAP orange button for a deep study of that scripture.
The Bible teaches clearly that we have a sin nature (Romans 7:15-18), but that is not the same as saying we have original sin.
Everyone sins, individually, because of our sin nature ... our propensity to sin ... wanting to become our own god in charge of our own life.
➤ Why do we have a sin nature? Because God gave us free will. Free will would be meaningless – not free at all – unless we sometimes exercise it in a wrong way.
➤ And why do we have free will? Because God loves us and desires a reciprocal relationship with us. Free will – with all its risks – is essential for real love.
All authority is from Jesus (verse above). Not church, not tradition, not Saint Augustine, not even Apostle Paul.
When we must choose between two or more possible interpretations, we should always choose the interpretation most in accord with what Jesus said.
With regard to Adam and original sin, what did Jesus say? Nothing. Complete silence. Nothing there, so nothing to talk about. There is no record of Jesus ever even mentioning Adam's name. Jesus talked only about our own choices and our own sins.
Original sin is a concept developed by theologians hundreds of years after Jesus and is defended now primarily on the basis of church tradition rather than words of scripture.
We should not add to Jesus' teachings, especially when the add-on is contradictory.
Jesus said that our mission is to 'make disciples.' The doctrine of original sin is a man-made barrier to Christian faith and a hindrance to our mission. It demeans the character of God, causing doubters and unbelievers to see God as cruel and vindictive rather than loving and just.
Jesus said nothing about original sin. That doctrine was created by theologians hundreds of years later. But Jesus did make some statements that contradict that doctrine:
➤ The closest thing Jesus said on the subject of inherited sin is in John 9:1-3: 'As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'
➤ In John 3:18 Jesus said, 'Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.' By this statement – 'whoever does not believe' (personal choice) – Jesus is saying that people are not already condemned at birth.
➤ John 5:24, Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.' By this statement – 'will not be condemned' (future tense) – Jesus is saying that people are not already condemned at birth.
➤ John 15:22 Jesus said, 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.' By this statement – 'would not be guilty of sin' (conditional) – Jesus is saying that people are not already condemned at birth.
Everything physical is mortal (dies), even non-living things, including stars (we see it happening now through telescopes), and eventually the earth itself will die.
'The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way ...' (2 Peter 3:10-11)
If there were no death before Adam, that would mean that God created everything immortal, but there is nothing in the Bible to even hint that the earth was once immortal.
The human condition, like the condition of everything else in God's creation, is that we eventually die. Death is not a design flaw or mistake. God designed everything to die, a practical necessity to prevent overcrowding and suffocation, to sustain the food chain and to enable continuous growth and change.
There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning in the world long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world 'through' Adam' (not 'because' of Adam;)' see 1.4.3 for study of Romans 5. There been death on earth since the beginning of time.
Since there was death on earth before sin, sin cannot be the cause of death (see 1.3).
Most Christians believe that sin causes death only because that is what they have always been told, not because of their own Bible study.
Romans 5:12, the principle verse quoted for this view, states: '...just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned ...'
The verse does not say that Adam's sin caused death in the world. The verse says explicitly that death is 'because ALL sinned.'
The verse says that ever since Adam sinned – the first sinner – final death now comes to humans IN THIS WAY: death through sin; i.e., final death now comes after resurrection, judgment and punishment in hell.
In other words, sin has intervened in the life-and-death process ever since man received and violated the first law from God. Instead of simply dying– like everything else in God's creation – for man it is now death through sin. There is now accountability for sin before final death.
The good news – the 'gospel' – is that there is one exception. Instead of going through SIN to eternal death, an optional way (our choice) is going through JESUS to eternal life.
Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke often about 'eternal life.' It is the central theme.
To connote the opposite of eternal life, traditional Christians often say 'spiritual death,' a term that is an oxymoron to everyone else. It is an invented term, not in the Bible.
'Spiritual death' is usually a polite way of saying burn in hell forever. People who use the term seem to be saying that, after bodily resurrection and judgment, death doesn't really mean death but really means living forever, in torture, unable to die.
TAP question bar to see how this terminology is contrary both to normal usage and to the character of God.
The term 'spiritual death' creates considerable confusion. Usually it doesn't mean to the listener – especially a doubter or unbeliever – what it means to the speaker. It's a kind of insider code talk.
Here are some problems with the term:
We should use words only in the way they are sensible and generally understood by others. People understand the word 'death' to mean end of existence, not the beginning of a new kind of everlasting life.
God said to Adam: 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17). In other words, Adam will no longer have access to the Tree of Life – will lose opportunity for eternal life – and therefore will 'die' (cease to exist).
How we interpret 'die' in the story of Adam and Eve sets the pattern for how we interpret death and eternal life in other parts of the Bible.
➤ THE INTERPRETATION FROM BIBLE STUDY ON THIS SITE is that the word 'die' is simply its normal meaning: final end of existence (now however, since Adam, final death comes after physical death, resurrection, judgment and punishment in hell). After punishment, no body. No consciousness. Nothing. Final eternal death. In Jesus' words: 'die ... burned up ... destroyed ... consumed ... perish' (see 3.4.1), refered to as the 'second death' in Revelation.
People who receive and reject God's offer of eternal life will eventually die in hell. Not live forever in hell, but die in hell, duration and severity dependent upon individual sin and judgment.
'For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord' (Romans 6:23).
Many people use this verse to prove that sin is the cause of death. But that's more than the verse actually says. The verse says that death is the consequence of sin, just as wages are the consequence of work. It's what you get. The verse says simply that death is all you get from sin – no eternal life (unless forgiveness through Jesus). It is not a cause statement.
By reading causation into this verse, theologians have made God look like He is not all-powerful and all-knowing ... that He made the universe so poorly that a man could foul everything by causing death in paradise ... and now God has to come back with Plan B (Jesus) to try to fix it. This is dishonoring to God. God always knew what He was doing, and death was always His plan for everything He created. By divine design from the beginning, ultimate death is the default condition for everything on earth, and the only exception to death is eternal life offered to us now through Jesus.
Any deep conversation about sin – and original sin in particular – usually raises the question of punishment.
The traditional Christians belief is that sinners without salvation through Jesus will burn in hell, unable to die, for all eternity.
This is the most horrible punishment imaginable.
Doubters and unbelievers cannot see any justice if all unforgiven sinners are arbitrarily punished the same way, forever, unable to die, especially for people who have never even heard about Adam, the sinner, or Jesus, the Savior.
The Bible makes it clear that there is a hell for unforgiven sinners after judgment ... BUT hardly anyone asks where in the Bible it says that people will burn in hell forever. Where does the Bible say that?
The usual response is to quote one or more of these five verses:
'... into hell, where the fire never goes out' (Matthew 18:18),
'... eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matthew 25:41),
'... eternal punishment ...' (Matthew 25:46),
'... punishment of eternal fire' (Jude 7) and
' ... And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever' (Revelation 14:11, in a dream, referring specifically to people in an age to come 'who worship the beast and its image').
However, these verses do not say that any person alive now or in the past will burn in hell forever.
These verses say only that the fire burns forever ... that Satan, his demons and some people in a future age will burn forever ... and that the punishment (sentencing) is eternal (final, i.e., no hope of any reprieve).
Contrary to burning forever, JESUS SAID clearly that people will eventually die, burn up, be destroyed, consumed and perish in the everlasting fire prepared for Satan and his demons.
Tap HERE or button for study of all 35 Bible verses on this topic.
Most Christians shrug off the unjust horror of original sin by saying that it really doesn't matter because all anyone needs to do is accept Jesus as Savior and then it's no longer an issue.
Problem is, many people are so turned off by their perception of Christianity that they never get to that point.
Getting it right is not a matter of how original sin affects us, but how it gives other people a wrong understanding of God and becomes a serious barrier to faith, contrary to the mission given to us by Jesus.
Unbelievers think our God – if they even believe He exists – must be cruel and unjust to place the most hideous punishment possible on everyone, even newborn babies, for a sin they didn't commit.
This repulsive image undercuts everything Christians can say about God's love and justice.
People can understand punishment for one's own sins – punishment commensurate with the offense – but original sin is so contrary to love and justice that it can hardly even be imagined.
There is universal agreement regarding the exact content of all Bible manuscripts as they were originally written in Hebrew and Greek.
But people come to different conclusions about how to translate and interpret some passages in the original manuscripts, depending primarily on the tradition of one's family, friends and church.
There are over 2,500 different church denominations, each studying the same Bible, and each believing it has found the true interpretation on every point.
Usually the differences don't matter much as long as the beliefs don't stray into the red area, diagrammed here.
The red area is corruption of scripture, as saying that the universe just came into existence by itself without God ... that Jesus is not deity and Savior ... or that there is no heaven and hell.
For most Christians, interpretations taught to them by family and church fall into the green area. Most of these interpretations are fine, and there is no need for anyone to abandon them, but be careful how they are expressed to unbelievers!
Also, there is the blue area, interpretations unfamiliar to people firmly rooted in the green who have never studied the Bible except through the lens of their own traditions.
Interpretations in the blue area are based on careful study of scripture in light of modern knowledge, not constrained by church tradition, and with deep concern about communicating the gospel to unbelievers.
When a traditional green interpretation conflicts with modern knowledge and is keeping people from Christ, a blue interpretation is often presented on this site – with complete Bible documentation – so that, in conversations with unbelievers, there is a biblical way to retain respect and avoid head-on dogmatic stalemate that ends discussion.